Wednesday, January 28, 2015

One Half Magic …

… is so much better than no magic. We know people who have magic boats. Sitting quietly at anchor or on the mooring they suck all the energy they need directly out of the passing light of the sun or the gently moving currents of Mother Earth's atmosphere. It is all very cool and futuristic.

4:00 in the afternoon, sun almost down, still 4.8 amps going in!
Kintala makes her magic the old fashioned, internal combustion, way. Kind of stone aged, but it keeps the lights on. Or she did, right up until 1211 this afternoon. At 1211 a breaker was closed that allowed 200 watts worth of magic to flow. Two-hundred watts is probably not enough to carry the boat without an occasional jolt of internal combustion juice, but one half the magic is still pretty amazing. Truth to tell I wanted to just sit and stare at the amp meter for a while, mostly to convince myself that this project is finally done. I'm not sure what it was about the solar panel install that made it such a relentless grind. The salon table took much longer and was much more work. Rudder repair, keel joint repair, wind vane install, work bench / tool storage, not to mention the original blowed-up V-drive disaster; there have been so many serious projects that one would think something like installing solar panels is just another in a long line. But it wasn't. The solar panels were tied up with the summer of The Bear. The Bear crossed time lines with the Thing in PA. Somewhere in my subconscious little brain this project was more of the same, another bruising bit there was no avoiding.

At 1211 this afternoon it felt like 50 pounds slipped from my shoulders and disappeared into the bay. The sun shown brighter (On newly installed solar panels!), the air was cleaner, the wind blew gently, and the boat rode easy. For the first time in weeks, maybe months, maybe many months, life feels like life fits again.

With the solar panels doing their thing, Old Friend Alex of Yacht-a-Fun (newly met just today) offered a ride to the LPG tanks topped. Routine. But it is something one must do when getting ready to head to the Islands. Indeed, the only thing standing between Kintala and Island Places East Of Here is some provisioning and a weather window. It feels like we have caught up with the tribe, taken our place with the others “waiting to cross”.

Kintala's electrical system may be just half magic now, and maybe she is carrying just a half store of cruising magic. After all, the magic is mysterious stuff, impossible to measure, and doesn't often hang around long. But it has been a while since the crew of Kintala has felt its touch at all, so tonight is a good, good night.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


In our 43 years together we've experienced many departures. As pilots, we're very experienced with the term, a term that requires a huge amount of work in trip planning, weather planning, traffic avoidance. We've done too many of those kind of departures to even count. Then there's the departures from the multiple places we've called home over the years, also aviation-related since they always involved job changes in the ever-so-fluctuating aviation job market. Then there's the infamous departures related to our move onto the boat - leaving Boulder Marina, leaving Carlyle Lake, leaving Oak Harbor and leaving the U.S. But by far, the hardest are the departures from family and friends.

Some can't do it. Some find after a bit of cruising that they just can't tolerate the goodbyes, and they call it quits. It's maybe the most frequent question directed at me, that of how I can say goodbye to grandbabies that will be almost unrecognizable the next time I see them. It's a tough and justifiable question, and one I have a hard time helping people to understand.

For 38 years I gave nearly all of my available time and most of my money to my children and their children. It was a good run and my life is the richer for it by immeasurable amounts. But my children have their own lives, carved from their desires and, hopefully, from the opportunities we made available to them. They need the time to grow their families and shape their adult lives, lives that I am an inherent part of, but not the whole any longer. Cruising is my chance to spend some time making my life richer and more meaningful, crafting stories and memories to share with my grandkids, and finding opportunities to share this deeply satisfying lifestyle with them. It's a chance for me to be both more relevant and intentional in my living, a chance to stand true to my beliefs about society and our integration into it.

While some goodbyes are surely permanent and will leave a hole in our hearts, we view most cruising goodbyes are temporary. We visit family and friends and Skype or Facetime beckons for those in-between fixes. We have sundowners in the cockpit and share meals with good cruising friends and weeks, months, or years later we run into them. With the interconnectedness of the cruising community, there is always this feeling of belonging. If you participate, you are always part of that whole.

This morning our good friends Bill and Tricia of Island Bound departed for places South. Since they were on a mooring ball right behind us, we had the opportunity to spend some quality time with them, to get to know these long time blog followers personally, to share some food and drink over sunsets. Next to them, blog followers Alex and Diann of Yacht-a-Fun are moored who we have yet to meet in person due to family travails. Behind us a few mooring balls are Paul and Deb of Kelly Nicole and over two are Keith and Katrina of Happy Dance. These are the type of friendships that you just don't say, "Goodbye" to. "Seeya later" was the sendoff of choice because, whether we actually ever do or not, these good folks will be such an integral part of our cruising community that we will actually see them in the face of every new cruiser we meet.

Goodbye? No. Fair Winds guys, and Following Seas. See you soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Liberty Ships

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Between 1941 and 1945, 2710 Liberty Ships were built to haul combatants and supplies to the battle fields of WWII. Those ships must have made up a large percentage of the guesstimated 1,768 Merchant Ships lost to war conditions. There appear to be no accurate records of Merchant mariners lost, but another guesstimate ranges toward 10,000. Mass produced, pressed hard in service, with an expected useful life of just five years, nothing about the Liberty ships hinted at glory or glitz. Theirs was a theater of unrelenting hard work and terrible risk offered in the service of their namesake … Liberty.

I sometimes think of Kintala as a kind of liberty ship. She doesn't carry the honor of service and sacrifice those sailing the stormy waters of a World War earned, but she does offer her crew a taste of personal liberty that is increasingly rare in this world. Sundowners and conversations shared with multiple fellow cruisers since we abandoned land living suggests I am not the only one who looks at my little floating home this way. We, as a tribe, take our liberty seriously. It is the thing most attractive about our little gypsy band.

Sometimes though, during amazing and enjoyable conversations, it seems that, as good as we are at living a liberated life, we are less good at recognizing what lies behind this life. The common idea seems to be that liberty is something we grasp and hold onto, by and for ourselves. An idea that plays well with the rugged individualist, Master of our Fate, ethos of America. But that isn't really true, and thinking that it is can put liberty at risk.

Liberty isn't a condition that we make for ourselves, it is a gift we accept from a community. It is, in fact, a rare and precious gift rarely offered in human history, and is only available to those who live in a society that cherishes the idea of personal liberty. Only in such a society are people protected from the power of the elite, of religion, of land owners and overlords. Only a society that actively and strenuously protects the civil liberties of all can offer the gift of liberty to any. No individual can wrest liberty from the mob, the crowd, the tyrant, or the oppressor. The lone “free spirit” is only as free as the community he or she lives in will allow.

Only in such a community can the gift of liberty be offered. Each individual is responsible for accepting that gift, unwrapping it and applying it to living as each sees fit. It is a gift we offer to each other. I can accept the gift of liberty offered to me by the whole. I can be part of the whole that offers the gift to you. But I can't offer it to myself, by myself. Liberty is a community thing. It is, at the risk of goring some oxes, a gift offered exclusively by enlightened, progressive, liberal societies that cherish the idea of civil rights being protected for all and offered to all.

When any society, group, or tribe abandons that responsibility, when people neglect to protect the liberty of their neighbors, the gift is lost for all. It is the scourge of this modern world. Here in America, mass media and our political elite have propagandized liberty, defining it as my right to tell you how to live, how to love, who to worship. Liberty is confined to allowing one to add as much as possible to some corporate bottom line, free only to consume as much as one can. A large part of the rest of the world has dismissed liberty as being of any value at all. Toeing the community line, be it religion, ruling party, or commercial interests, is the only consideration. (As in America, those three interests are often wrapped into a single, crushing, weight.)

The cruising community lives in quiet protest to the death of liberty, holds on to the gift, offers it to any who chose to come this way. Each of us goes our own way when and how we see fit. Some are world travelers, though there are parts of the world they can't go because the gift is not offered. Some, like the crew of Kintala, don't stray as far. But near or far we husband the gift for others, sharing information and skills and support so others of our tribe can continue on their way, when and how they see fit. And they husband the gift for us. It is a shared responsibility and, in a world increasingly hostile to the very idea of living unencumbered, light footed, and considerate of the world around us and the people in it, we are doing a pretty good job of holding on.

I think those who crewed the original Liberty Ships would be proud of what we have done with the gift they labored and sacrificed to protect.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Bear floats away ...

The Floating Bear has found a new home. Daughter Eldest and Family did all they could to find their way back to a life on the water, but it just isn't to be … for now. Regardless of what their future might hold, the idea of The Bear sitting alone on the mooring doing a slow decline to “abandoned boat” status, was too sad. The Bear deserved better and Daughter Eldest figured out how to make that happen. So today Deb and I helped the new owner find his way around the boat.

He is a young licensed Captain who works here in Dinner Key, and The Bear is his first boat. He went out of his way to help Daughter Eldest and Family the months they lived here and is a good friend of the clan. All said and done the Family can face a future that does not include the constant financial drain of owning a boat, and a young Captain has his own piece of life on the water. Not the desired outcome, but not a bad one either. The next time you are sitting in the cockpit, sundowner glass cold in hand, have a good thought for The Bear and her Captains, both old and new. May they all find the wind at their backs and following seas.

Living on the water has taught me that we are much more like flotsam and much less “The Captain of My Fate” than we, particularly us strutting Americans, like to admit. Daughter Eldest and Family are safe and warm while awaiting the arrival of Grand Child Newest sometime in May. The Bear is in the hands of an enthusiastic new owner. All is well with the world. Except I'm not there yet. For me a lingering sense of failure surrounds the Saga of The Floating Bear. By any rationale I can manage, two parts of my family have taken nothing short of a massive flogging. Floggings that, no matter how many insist otherwise, happened on my watch. My best efforts only managed to make things worse. When the family needed at least a marginally competent Captain, I managed flotsam. The Universe was playing Master Level Chess. I came to the board sucking my thumb and clutching my Blankie.

Still, there is a thing about flotsam that most of us miss. Regardless of how rough the sea, flotsam just keeps on floating. Towering waves? No matter. Giant breakers rolling massive ships on their ear? Passes almost unnoticed. Sink a bit of flotsam deep as you like, it pops to the surface ready to go on as far as the wind blows or current runs. Indeed, flotsam goes on long after the Captain has met his match and taken up residence in Mr. Jones' Water Side Hotel.

I doubt I'll ever be flotsam enough to shrug The Bear off completely. There will always be this nagging feeling that I got that one wrong. But maybe I'll be flotsam enough to keep going anyway.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


LBC (Life Before Cruising) meant very little free time. Tim and I both worked. A lot. When we were home, our time was filled with tending to the business of life outside of work - cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, vehicle work, and the endless list of errands that accompany land life. It also meant that we had very little time for friends. It's a good thing that we happened to be best friends because we didn't spend much time with anybody else.

LAC (Life After Cruising) has been another story. We've met more people in the 18 months since we pulled out of our home slip than we had met in the 20 years prior. Maybe it's because we have more time to spend in the quality kind of discussion that builds relationships. Maybe it's because that discussion is not hampered by scattered concentration that is thinking about the million things that need done before the next work day. Maybe it's because we all share the same love of the water and of this unique lifestyle, a common ground of experience that paves the way for easy friendship. Whatever the reason, we're endlessly grateful for the many deep friendships we've forged around our life of cruising.

We got to spend the evening on Kelly Nicole, our good friends Paul and Deb's Morgan 44 Center Cockpit, telling stories and talking about their impending departure for places South. They will likely beat  us out of here and, since they are heading to the deep reaches of the Caribbean and we are not, we will likely not see them again for some time. It was a good evening filled with excellent food and lots of laughter and as we climbed into the dinghy I realized that even if we don't see them for a couple years, when we are again reunited, we will pick up right where we left off. It is the way of Cruisers, and one of the things I most cherish about this lifestyle, this sense of belonging to a group of like-minded souls who really care. As tired as the song is, I still keep humming this bit of the Cheers theme:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name. 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Taking it easy ...

The plan for today was to ease back into life on the boat. Deb is still sore from having America's health care system prove to itself that she did not have a life-threatening disease. I am suffering from the post-daughter-post-grand kid visit blues. I admit to being more suited to life on the water than with the steady drum of a house full of children quickly overwhelming my senses. That doesn't mean that being far away from them doesn't make the heart hurt. It will take me a few days to remember the smiles without remembering the good-byes. In any case, the goals for today were pretty modest: get the dink leak fixed, launch it and get the motor running and, maybe, do a little more clean-up work in the inside of our little floating home. 

 (Ed Note: The dink leak deserves a special comment. When you have water working its way into your inflatable, don't automatically assume it's a leak in the body of the dinghy. If you have one of those drains in the transom that swivels open and closed, take it apart and replace the diaphragm. The diaphragms on them are incredibly flimsy and tear easily. It's worth a couple bucks and 10 minutes of your time.

I am on record as having nothing good to say about the little Merc outboard that shoves the dink on its way. It has been a constant pain since we first brought it into the family. It has never responded well to sitting and now it has been sitting for a month, untended, unused, and unloved. No telling what kind of fit it would throw at being called back into service. Anticipating the worst I turned on the fuel, eased though four pulls with the ignition off just to limber things up, set the choke to full, took a breath, and gave the cord one more genteel yank. The Merc fired up and settled into an easy idle like it had been running all day. I'll be a son of a skeptic, one freaking pull! No one can ask more of an outboard than that it start up first pull and run like a top.

Feeling pretty good about the world, our reworked Bimini frame caught my eye. We hurried to get the solar panels mounted before heading to cold country, and some of the support tubes I added were just wrong; odd angles, weird aesthetics, funky looking … wrong. Gazing at them in the glow of Merc magic the fix to making them right was obvious. Even more surprising, it actually worked out mostly as envisioned. The only down side was working in stainless. Tubes needed re-cut, a task plus when one is hacking up a lung while cutting with a hack saw.  Also, I don't much care for the Allen head lock screws that are supposed to hold the tubes in place. They are okay so long as the loads are all in compression, but under tension? Under tension I am much happier to see blind rivets instead. That way, pretty much no matter how hard the wind blows, tubes can not be pulled out of fittings, thus letting the Bimimi flap its way into the wild blue. But that means drilling stainless steel tubes and installing stainless steel blind rivets, neither of which is particularly easy when one is working with hand tools in the small cockpit of a cruising boat. (Wood workers have no idea how good they have it when it comes cutting, drilling, and fastening.) Though the job was pretty “easy” it still took the better part of six hours, with wrist and arms now complaining about wrestling steel all day.

Deb, being barely a week out of surgery, was going to take it even easier today. A small load of dishes needed done which is a pretty easy job, so long as the drain actually drains. Kintala's didn't. Deb, knowing that I was elbow deep in steel bits, just dove in and started taking the drains apart. The first I knew about it is when she came up the companionway ladder to show me a drain line completely blocked with some evil looking, vile smelling …. something. A couple of hours later she had the drains fixed and the dishes done, finishing up about the same time I was putting the last rivet in place. So, tonight, Kintala's Bimini frame is much improved, her sink drains are much improved, her dishes are clean, and her crew – in spite of being a bit worse for the wear – is pretty much back into the swing of all things cruiser.

Tomorrow we are going to take it easy. I may even get back to estudiando un poco de espaƱol.